Death toll rises in protests against Hachalu's killing
July 8, 2020
Violent protests over the killing of vocalist and activist Hachalu Hundessa have claimed at least 239 lives in Ethiopia. Hachalu's supporters say the murder was politically motivated; they blame it on security forces.
The number of people killed in protests across Ethiopia following the assassination of popular singer and Oromo activist Hachalu Hundessa has risen to at least 239, a government official said on Wednesday.
Hachalu was shot and killed in the capital Addis Ababa last Monday, triggering widespread violent protests in the country.
The context of Hachalu's killing was not immediately clear, although the US Embassy in the Ethiopian capital said his supporters had blamed security forces and "assume a political motive."
Analysts say the unrest poses the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed since he came to power in 2018.
Hachalu was buried on July 2 in his home town of Ambo, in central Oromia region, amid tight security. The vocalist was famed for his political songs and had been considered a prominent voice for Ethiopia's Oromo — the country's biggest ethnic group in terms of population.
Mustefa Tadir, the head of Oromia region's police commission, told the government-affiliated news outlet Walta Info on Wednesday that nine soldiers had died during violent protests. At least 215 civilians and five militia members were also killed, he added.
Officials earlier said 10 people were killed in the capital, Addis Ababa, eight of them civilians.
The situation was relatively calm in Addis Ababa and Oromia region on Wednesday. Businesses have started to open slowly after the violence in which several hundred homes in Ethiopia were burned or damaged.
The government shut down the internet last week to discourage the organization of protests via social media.
Police have arrested 3,500 people, including a well-known Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed, in connection with the ongoing unrest.
The Oromo — Ethiopia's largest ethnic group — have long complained of being neglected by the government. The Oromo had never held Ethiopia's top political position until Prime Minister Abiy assumed power in 2018.
Hachalu had helped spearhead anti-government protests that helped Abiy come to power.
After coming to power, Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, introduced political reforms that experts initially lauded as a step towards alleviating long-held ethnic and other grievances in Africa's second most populous country.
Speaking about the violent unrest, the PM said despite calls for peace, dissidents had "taken up arms" against the government. Those who participate "in the destruction of the nation cannot be considered guardians of the nation," he said on Friday.